Psychologists Now Know What Makes People Happy

Here are several articles on "Happiness" from various sources:


By Marilyn Elias, USA TODAY

The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don't care about keeping up with the Joneses next door, lose themselves in daily activities and, most important, forgive easily.

By Chris Clevenger, via AP

The once-fuzzy picture of what makes people happy is coming into focus as psychologists no longer shun the study of happiness. In the mid-'90s, scientific journals published about 100 studies on sadness for every one study on happiness. Now a burgeoning "positive psychology" movement that emphasizes people's strengths and talents instead of their weaknesses is rapidly closing the gap, says University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman, author of the new book, Authentic Happiness. The work of Seligman and other experts in the field is in the early stages, but they are already starting to see why some people are happy while others are not: The happiest people spend the least time alone. They pursue personal growth and intimacy; they judge themselves by their own yardsticks, never against what others do or have. "Materialism is toxic for happiness," says University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener. Even rich materialists aren't as happy as those who care less about getting and spending. Because the December holidays are friend- and family-oriented, they painfully reveal the intimacy missing in some lives, Diener says. Add in the commercial emphasis — keeping up with the Joneses and the Christmas enjoyed by the Joneses' kids — "and it's a setup for disappointment," he says. And yet some people manage to look on the bright side, even if they lose their jobs in December. Others live in darkness all year for no apparent reason. A person's cheer level is about half genetic, scientists say. Everyone has a "set point" for happiness, just as they do for weight, Seligman says. People can improve or hinder their well-being, but they aren't likely to take long leaps in either direction from their set point. Even physical health, assumed by many to be key to happiness, only has an impact if people are very ill. Objective health measures don't relate to life satisfaction, but subjective feelings do. Plenty of healthy people take their health for granted and are none the happier for it, Diener points out. Meanwhile, the sickly often bear up well, and hypochondriacs cling to misery despite their robust health. Good feelings aren't "all in the head," though. Actions matter, just not in the way often believed. Life satisfaction occurs most often when people are engaged in absorbing activities that cause them to forget themselves, lose track of time and stop worrying. "Flow" is the term Claremont Graduate University psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced cheeks-sent-mee-hi) coined to describe this phenomenon. People in flow may be sewing up a storm, doing brain surgery, playing a musical instrument or working a hard puzzle with their child. The impact is the same: A life of many activities in flow is likely to be a life of great satisfaction, Csikszentmihalyi says. And you don't have to be a hotshot to get there. "One of the happiest men I ever met was a 64-year-old Chicago welder with a fourth-grade education," he says. The man took immense pride in his work, refusing a promotion to foreman that would have kept him from what he loved to do. He spent evenings looking at the rock garden he built, with sprinklers and floodlights set up to create rainbows. Teenagers experience flow, too, and are the happiest if they consider many activities "both work and play," Csikszentmihalyi says. Flow stretches someone but pleasurably so, not beyond his capacity. "People feel best when doing what they do best," he says. Everyone has "signature strengths," Seligman adds, and the happiest use them. Doing so can lead to choices that astound others but yield lasting satisfaction. Signature strengths That's what happened to Greg and Tierney Fairchild. He was a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia, and she'd already earned a Ph.D., when they learned that the child she was carrying had Down syndrome, along with a serious heart defect requiring surgery. In the Fairchilds' intellectual circle of friends, some viewed having a retarded child as unthinkable — and let them know it. Lots of people, including some family members, assumed they'd opt for abortion. After thoroughly exploring all the angles — medical, practical and emotional — they decided to keep their daughter, Naia. "We're pro-choice, so it's not that we wouldn't get an abortion under some circumstances, or think that others could make a different choice here," Greg says. They were leading with their strength. An interracial couple, they both had long histories of taking bold, less traveled paths rather than following the parade. Greg was the first black on his high school track team at a Southern, mostly white school; he became student body president. Tierney was the only MBA student at her university also getting a Ph.D. in education because she wanted to train executives. And they chose each other, despite all the stares of bigots they knew they'd face forever. "We haven't shied away from tough choices," Greg says, "and we've been able to persevere through some difficulties other people might not have been able to." Tierney says, "We thought having Naia would be a challenge, but we really wanted her, and just because something's a challenge, I'm not the type to turn away." Their struggles are depicted in the new book, Choosing Naia by Mitchell Zuckoff. That was a few years ago. Now Naia is a 4-year-old people magnet with a great sense of humor, the first Down syndrome child to be "mainstreamed" at the preschool for University of Virginia staff. (Greg teaches in the business school.) She walked late, talked late and is potty-training late—just as her parents expected. "And so what?" Tierney asks. "She's brought us a huge amount of joy because she's such a happy child." Tierney, who is manager of executive education at United Technologies Corp., feared she'd have to quit work to care for Naia, but that wasn't necessary. Tierney and Greg gave Naia a baby brother, Cole, 22 months ago. "We're so grateful for these kids," Greg says. Gratitude helps Gratitude has a lot to do with life satisfaction, psychologists say. Talking and writing about what they're grateful for amplifies adults' happiness, new studies show. Other researchers have found that learning to savor even small pleasures has the same effect. And forgiveness is the trait most strongly linked to happiness, says University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson. "It's the queen of all virtues, and probably the hardest to come by," he adds. 'More fun, less stuff' There's also evidence that altruistic acts boost happiness in the giver. That doesn't surprise Betsy Taylor, president of the Center for a New American Dream, a Takoma Park, Md., non-profit that favors simple living and opposes commercialism. "The altruism part is worth keeping in mind over the holidays," Taylor says. "Our mantra is 'more fun, less stuff.' Do for others, we say." Karen Madsen, 51, of Everett, Wash., is a believer. For several years, she's organized local families to buy holiday gifts for needy foster children. Madsen sinks in about $1,000 herself, often trimming her own kids' Christmas haul to do it. "You'd see these notes from foster kids, 'I don't really need anything, but my little sister needs a coat because she's cold.' " Her son, William Shepherd, a high school senior, doesn't mind. "It's a lot of fun to go shopping for their toys," he says. "I have enough, and it feels good to make sure other people can enjoy the holidays, too." Many parents would be amazed that a kid could be happy to get less, but surprise is the name of the game with happiness. People aren't very good at predicting what will make them happy, cutting-edge research shows. Even Seligman, the happiness maven, tells how he wanted no more children — he already had two grown ones — and his current wife wanted four, "so we compromised at four," he says. His book reveals he's besotted with these kids and marvels at them daily. "I just didn't know," he says. None of us knows, says Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert. "There's a reason why Euripides said, 'It would not be better if men got what they wanted.' " People expect that events will have a larger and more enduring impact on them — for good or ill — than they really do, Gilbert's studies find. People tend to rationalize bad things, quickly adapting to new realities. They also visualize future events in isolation, but real life teems with many experiences that dilute the impact of any one. This means winning the lottery doesn't make people's lives stellar, but they recover from romantic breakups much quicker than expected. "If you knew exactly what the future held, you still wouldn't know how much you would like it when you got there," Gilbert says. In pursuing happiness, he suggests "we should have more trust in our own resilience and less confidence in our predictions about how we'll feel. We should be a bit more humble and a bit more brave."

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Happiness Means Home

By Jill Lieber, USA TODAY

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — Landon Donovan, one of the best soccer players the USA has produced, listens to the song in his heart.

U.S. soccer player Landon Donovan decided not to play in Europe if it meant being away from girlfriend Bianca Kajlich.

By Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

He heard it for the first time soon after he learned to walk, when his older half-brother, Joshua, began teaching him to kick a soccer ball in the backyard of their Redlands, Calif., home. Over the years, it has pulled him from the youth soccer fields of Southern California to the U.S. Soccer under-17 residency training program in Bradenton, Fla., to the professional ranks in Leverkusen, Germany, and San Jose, Calif., and back to Leverkusen. This spring, it pulled him back home to his girlfriend, actress Bianca Kajlich, and to Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy. "For me, it's all about being happy," Donovan says. "For me, soccer is fun; it's happy. If I don't have that, I'm useless." Kajlich (KI-lick) says, "If you don't have that, it's death." Donovan, 23, the reigning three-time U.S. Soccer player of the year, has blazed many trails in his accomplished athletic career, but none is as ambitious, unorthodox, controversial and gutsy as the one he's traveling right now — chosen for his heart. In March, three months into a second, inauspicious stint with Bayer Leverkusen in the vaunted German Bundesliga, Donovan asked out of his lucrative, long-term contract. He had started only two games since returning to Germany in January. After he was pulled in the 53rd minute of a 3-1 loss to Liverpool in a Champions League match March 9 and was banished to the bench, he had had enough of Europe and European soccer. He missed Kajlich, their dogs and cat and their new house here, a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean. He missed his mother, Donna Kenney-Cash, his extended family and his friends. He missed In-N-Out burgers, Cold Stone ice cream, ESPN's SportsCenter, shopping malls and speaking English. And he missed the joy he felt playing soccer in the USA. "I was out of it mentally," Donovan says of his final days with Bayer Leverkusen. "I wasn't inspired to play anymore. ... This is a game I played my whole life and loved. It's always been my way of expression. And meanwhile I'm 6,000 miles from home. "I didn't want to be miserable. I'm 23, and I don't need to go through that. I don't need that." But instead of being applauded for knowing what makes him happy and keeping soccer in perspective, Donovan was criticized, particularly in the USA, for abandoning Europe's soccer mecca for the less-competitive, lower-paying MLS. "The fact is that it's becoming more and more clear to ardent fans of U.S. soccer that Donovan simply may not be cut out to be the golden boy that many had hoped that he would be," Jen Chang, the U.S. editor for ESPN Soccernet.com, wrote in a column posted March 28. "Donovan has the technical skills and potential to be a world-class player, as he showed in the last World Cup. However his continuous failure to reach the heights demanded of such expectations since that time (not to mention his consistent inconsistency outside of an MLS setting) leads one to believe he is simply lacking the 'mojo' or unique intangible that sets apart the greats." Donovan lets it roll off his back. All that he hears, he says, is the song in his heart. "The problem is that people have expectations of who you are, what you're supposed to be, how your career is supposed to progress," he says. "Fans do, even friends and family do sometimes. But the only person who matters is me. I have to live it. Therefore, I have to make the decisions. Soccer is important to me, but at the end of the day, it's just a game." Getting to call a place 'home' Thus far, Donovan's decision to come home has paid off — for everybody. On the field, the 5-8, 148-pound forward leads the Galaxy (4-2, second in the West) and MLS in goals with five (tied with Clint Dempsey) and is tied for third in the league with three assists. "He has made an immediate impact by the way he plays," Galaxy coach Steve Sampson says. "His speed, his precision in front of the goal, is difficult to teach. He's very much willing to create space for others. He's very unselfish." Midfielder and team captain Peter Vagenas adds, "His greatest influence is making those around him better by the way he reads the game. He simplifies it; he finds the easiest solution." Off the field, his impact is felt, as well. Doug Hamilton, the Galaxy's president and general manager, says the team will sell out eight to 10 games this season compared with five last year. Eduardo Serrano, manager of the Team LA store at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., says Donovan's No. 10 game-replica jersey, retailing for $100, "sells like there's no tomorrow." Meanwhile, Donovan's personal life has never been better. When he and Kajlich aren't decorating their new house, they're walking on the beach, romping with their pets in the backyard or riding their bikes or Vespa scooters around the neighborhood. "It's not that it was so terribly hard or so terribly painful to be away from each other. It just felt like we weren't living," says Kajlich, 28. "It felt like we were waiting to get to where we wanted to be happy, to where we wanted to be to live life." Donovan says: "I've never really been home. I've been moving around the world for six years. Finally all my stuff is in one place. It's almost overwhelming. I keep thinking, 'This isn't really my life; somebody's going to take it back.' " A rocket-like career came easily Although he has been described as U.S. soccer's "chosen one," Donovan depicts himself as never having aspirations of achieving fame and fortune. The way he tells it, he just fell into this. "As a kid, I always said I wanted to be a professional soccer player, but that's when it didn't mean anything," he says. When he was 15, he tried out for the Olympic Development Program. "I didn't have a clue what I was doing," he says. "Someone on my youth team suggested I do it." Less than a year later, as a sophomore at Redlands East Valley High School, he was invited to join U.S. Soccer's under-17 residency training program at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. "A lot of other guys probably knew what was going on and thought, 'Shoot, I really have to try hard to make this team.' I couldn't have cared less," Donovan says. "That's when I play the best, when I'm just playing for fun." Michael Reschke, then the scouting director for Bayer Leverkusen, spotted Donovan in a European youth tournament and offered him a spot on his club's youth team. "I was like, 'OK, cool, whatever the hell that means,' " Donovan says. In February 1999, a month before his 17th birthday, Donovan signed with Leverkusen. "I had never seen a tape of the team or knew where the city was located on the map, prior to arriving in Germany," he says. "I was off by myself. I was excited. At that age, freedom is the coolest thing." It took Donovan two years of playing and training with Leverkusen's Under-18 and reserve teams before he got the chance to train with the first team. Even then, he was never given the chance to play in games, much less sit on the bench. While with Bayer Leverkusen, he also flourished with the U.S. Under-17 team, winning the Gold Ball as the best player in the FIFA Youth World Cup, and played in four games in the 2000 Olympics, scoring a goal against Kuwait. Weeks later, he was called up to play in his first game with the full U.S. men's national team, scoring a goal in a 2-0 victory against Mexico. "I remember thinking, 'If I can play at this level, why am I not getting a chance in Germany?' " Donovan says. So in 2001, at 18, he convinced Bayer Leverkusen to loan him to the MLS' San Jose Earthquakes, where he could start and play regularly. He led San Jose to two MLS Cup titles in four years (2001 and 2003). In between, he started all five games for the USA in the 2002 World Cup, scoring twice. Personal life beckons The turning point in his life came a few weeks after that World Cup, when he was introduced to Kajlich. They shared the same publicist, Lewis Kay, who had a hunch they would like each other. Their first date was at the ESPYs.

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Francis Specker, AP

Donovan gave up a career in the prestigious German Bundesliga to rejoin L.A. in Major League Soccer.

"I was 25 at the time, and I was talking to my mom, and she said, 'How old is he?' " Kajlich recalls. "And I said, 'Twenty.' She got really unnerved. I said, 'Mom, It's not like I'm going to marry this guy.' Here we are, three years later, living together." The turning point in their relationship came in December 2003, when Kajlich's younger brother, Andre, then 24, who was studying chemistry in Prague, Czech Republic, lost his legs in a horrific subway accident. Donovan was the rock for Kajlich and her family. Among other things, he arranged and paid for five flights to Prague. "It took us three or four days to get to my brother's bedside," Kajlich says. "Landon saw what this did to my family. He said, 'Why would you put yourself so far away from the people you love?' "When Bayer Leverkusen called last November and asked him to come back, those old echoes hit home again. And they were especially loud when he wasn't playing. He thought, 'What's the point?' Landon's not built to shut off the caring mechanism." Says Donovan: "Andre's accident really stressed the importance of the people in your life and how life is short. ... Neither Bianca nor I want to, at some point, say, 'Gosh, I really wish I would've spent more time with ...' You can't count on tomorrow. If there are things you want to do, do them today." When he admitted to Reschke in mid-March he had no desire to be in Germany, especially because he wasn't playing, the Bayer Leverkusen GM understood. "His personality, his way of playing football, his way of life and living life is the same," Reschke says. "All these things must come together for him to play well. If you make him unhappy, he will not play well. It was out of respect for a great person and a great football player that we opened the door and said, 'OK, the time has come for you to go home.' "I recognized it by looking at his face. I didn't have the right, contract-wise, to keep him in Germany." MLS purchased Donovan's player's pass from Bayer Leverkusen. According to Hamilton and Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, a division of Anschutz Entertainment, owners of the Galaxy, there are options in the contract that will keep Donovan in the USA through the prime of his career. "I highly, highly doubt I will ever go back to Europe," he says. "I want to be here." Reschke doesn't believe Donovan has to play in Europe to reach his potential. "He will reach his top level when he feels glad, self-confident and happy in every aspect of his life," Reschke says. "If he realizes his personal potential, more is not possible." Bruce Arena, coach of the U.S. men's national team, agrees. "Like anyone else in life, when they're happy with their circumstances and the situation around them, they're productive," Arena says. "If Landon could write his fairy tale, this is it. He's near his family; he's with his girlfriend; he's living near the beach. Wouldn't we all want everything we dream of?"

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Gen Nexters Have Their Hands Full

Emily McConnell, who says she had a nervous breakdown in high school, is a college senior.

By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY

Seventeen-year-old Alex Capp of Grosse Pointe, Mich., hopes his senior year of high school will be less stressful than his junior year. "It was a pretty overwhelming workload," he says. Besides taking two Advanced Placement classes, honors chemistry, math and electives, he served on the student council organizing community service projects, took a cultural diversity class at a community college for college credit, participated in his school's alcohol awareness group, did volunteer work, took tennis lessons and held down a part-time job. He hasn't had too much rest this summer, either; it was largely spent building up his credentials for college. He took a summer school class, volunteered, worked at his dad's office and completed parts of the Common Application for the 10 or so colleges he's applying to. "I wanted an extra English class on my transcript," he says. For Capp's generation, "overwhelming" is par for the course. And those who study teens and people in their early 20s say young people are plenty stressed out. They're coming of age in a globally competitive world where the path to the middle class is no longer a high school diploma. More students go to college; it's also costly and more selective, and they know it can change their lives. The particulars vary, but young people from all walks of life are feeling the strain. "What contemporary American culture advertises is achievement and accomplishment as the route to ultimate happiness," says Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University in New York. She has spent much of the past decade studying affluent young people and comparing them with other socioeconomic groups. Luthar and others say a host of factors have resulted in an especially anxiety-prone generation, dealing with not just a faster-paced, technology-dominated society but also with their own lofty aspirations and their parents' expectations. Some say these kids are too fragile as the result of overly involved parents who have rescued their children all too often, directing their lives and stunting their ability to rebound from difficulty. But Luthar disagrees. "Something else is going on that is really quite powerful," she says. "Much has to do with adolescents' internalized feelings of perfectionism and how much they want to accomplish. It is wrong to simply blame the parents." Although experts say parents' anxiety has increased, social historian William Strauss, co-author of several books about the so-called millennial generation, says kids today also are more eager to please their parents than boomers were. "They're under enormous pressure not just to succeed, but to be outstanding in everything they do," says Madeline Levine, a psychologist from Marin County, Calif., who has counseled young people for 25 years in private practice. Data show that more young people are diagnosed with mental health problems, but Luanne Southern of the National Mental Health Association says the increase could be attributable to greater public awareness about mental health. A study by psychologists at Kansas State University published three years ago found that the number of college-age students treated for depression doubled from 1989 to 2001. And the University of Michigan Depression Center estimates that as many as 15% of college students are depressed. Whether they're actually more anxiety-ridden than their parents or grandparents at similar ages isn't clear; such data have been collected only since the late 1950s, says Mike Bradley, an adolescent psychologist in Philadelphia and author of The Heart & Soul of the Next Generation, to be published next month. But "since they've been collecting reliable data, kids are clearly more stressed and anxious than they've ever been," he says. Bradley notes that not all stress is bad; it's the level of stress combined with biological and environmental factors that determines whether it will catapult into a mental disorder. He says use of prescription drugs to enhance academic performance and cope with the stress is "widespread" at colleges. A survey in 2005 by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America found that 19% of teens reported having taken prescription drugs, including stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall. Those drugs, in addition to Provigil, are among the ones students use to boost concentration and memory during tests. Psychologist Sherry Benton, assistant director of the counseling service at Kansas State University, studies student mental health. The higher a student's grade point average, the more likely he or she is to seek help, Benton says. More than half of the center's clients have GPAs of 3.2 or better. "They do pretty well and think 'I can take on a little more,' " she says. "They're afraid they'll lose their edge. They think they can get by with a little less sleep. Pretty soon they're skipping meals. They don't exercise. They have no recovery time. It's all stress. Run, run, run."

Price of a nervous breakdown

Emily McConnell knows what can happen when the pressure is too great. "I had a nervous breakdown in my senior year," says McConnell, 21, of Salt Lake City. That emotional crisis caused her to drop out of her high school's International Baccalaureate program, an advanced curriculum that results in a prestigious IB diploma. "I only did seven APs, which is not much for my school," she says. "Most people did the full IB diploma and seven AP classes." She says she was diagnosed with clinical depression and has responded well to antidepressants. She will graduate in May with a biology degree from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. Then she plans to go to medical school. She spent a month this summer with her grandmother in Louisville, cooking, doing needlework and writing poetry and fiction to "de-stress." She also spent two weeks earning her basic certification as an emergency medical technician. "I'm a high achiever — not because I thrive on pressure but because I have lofty goals for myself," McConnell says. Pressure in high school is all too common, she says. "There's the sense that if you don't have a longer list of activities than everybody else, colleges are going to bump you down, and to be successful, you have to drive yourself crazy." No, you don't, says Alexandra Robbins, author of the new book The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids. Robbins, 30, traveled the country and found a universal attitude of what she calls an "overachiever culture." "You will find more of the overachiever culture in privileged areas because they're so driven toward getting into a prestigious school, but it transcends class lines," Robbins says. "The goals can be different, but the poor students I met in eastern New Mexico were just as stressed and overwhelmed as the students in Bethesda, Md."

The drive doesn't let up

Adora Mora, 18, comes from a family of high achievers in Columbus, Ohio. Her parents, an accountant and a pharmacist, emigrated from Nigeria. Their eight children are 11 to 24. The oldest graduated from medical school and has begun a medical residency. Another works at Tufts University, her alma mater, and another graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and starts work this fall in New York. One is studying music composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston; another attends Ohio State. All, including Adora, earned scholarships. Adora, who is headed to Harvard as a freshman this fall, was salutatorian of her parochial high school. She also held her share of school leadership posts, did community service and worked, helping kids in an after-school program. Much of her own drive has been spurred by peer pressure. "Once you do well, people always expect you to do well," she says. Some experts, including Levine and Bradley, say particularly driven kids who don't know how to cope with stress may fall into risky behaviors or develop mental disorders. Levine's new book, The Price of Privilege,suggests the affluent, in particular, have high rates of depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and suicide. Levine and Robbins say high schools, colleges and parents need to focus less on competition, performance and success and more on emotional support. "The culture has come to view teenagers as small adults. They're not. They're large children," Bradley adds. (Recent research suggests the brain isn't fully developed until about age 25.) But Robbins says tendencies to overachieve in school carry over into the real world. "They were left feeling if they couldn't be a success by age 25, then they were failures," she says. Capp is still working to improve his college prospects by boosting his standardized test scores. He has already taken the ACT "a couple of times," and "I think I'll take it again to see if my score will go up a little more." He also took the SAT and says he might take it again, too. Such anxiety even shows up in market research, says Ian Pierpoint of Synovate, an international market research firm whose recent work has focused on ages 16 to 25. "People don't seem to be enjoying their youth anymore," he says. "It's this 'I can't wait till I'm 30 and life will be sorted.' Being 22 just isn't much fun."

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